“The Harold Washington Library Center” by S.M. O’Connor

The ten-story, 760,000-square-foot Harold Washington Library Center (H.W.L.C.), at 400 South State Street, is the central library of the Chicago Public Library System.  It takes up a whole city block, bounded by Van Buren Street on the north and Congress Parkway on the south, State Street on the east and Plymouth Court on the west.  “A massive, hulking building that looks like an Italian Renaissance fortress, Chicago’s main public library is the largest public library in the world,” according to Frommer’s Chicago 2010.  The famed architect Stanley Tigerman stated the building “is a massive masonry behemoth, looking backwards in spiritual homage to Henri Labrouste’s Bibliothéque [National Library] in Paris.”

DSCN1160Figure 1 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: The Chicago Transit Authority (C.T.A.) has an elevated (L) train station to the immediate north of the Harold Washington Library Center on Van Buren.  The C.T.A. Board voted on Wednesday, October 6, 2010 to change the name of the L stop from the Library-State/Van Buren stop to the Harold Washington Library-State/Van Buren stop.  Since the Harold Washington Library L stop, which serves the Brown, Orange, Purple, and Pink lines, is north of the H.W.L.C., the H.W.L.C. is technically outside the Loop, though still very much in the downtown area.

Between the time the previous central library of the Chicago Public Library System, known simply as the Chicago Public Library, closed and transformed into the Chicago Cultural Center in the 1970s, until the H.W.L.C. opened in 1991, Chicago was in the embarrassing position of being a great city with no central library.  At the time of its completion in 1991, the H.W.L.C. was the largest circulating library in the United States of America, and the largest design/build architectural project in history.  In 1986, Mayor Harold Washington, who would die in office a year later, announced there would be a design-build competition for a new central library that would be built at the northwest corner of Congress Parkway and State Street. In 1991, Mayor Richard M. Daley named the new central library the Harold Washington Library Center in honor of Chicago’s first Black African-American mayor, because Washington had strongly supported the construction of a new central library.

The architectural firm Carow · Architects provided the City of Chicago Department of Planning and the Chicago Public Library (C.P.L.) with planning studies for the H.W.L.C. The studies evaluated the impact of the central library on the neighborhood, assessed parking needs, recommended improvements to public transportation (the C.T.A.’s bailiwick), and circulation.  According to the firm, this “building analysis contained guidelines for building massing, fenestration and articulation, open public spaces, and relationships to adjacent buildings. The winning solution, selected from five competition entries, followed the recommended siting and massing.”

Five teams competed for the right to design and oversee construction of Chicago’s new central library.  The team that won the competition in 1987 consisted of the Chicago-based architectural firm of Hammond, Beeby & Babka (now Hammond, Beeby, Rupert, Ainge Architects or HBRA Architects) and the architecture and engineering firm A. Epstein & Sons International, Inc.  Dennis E. Rupert, who joined HBRA in 1979 and became a principal of it in 1983, was the firm’s Principal-in-Charge for the H.W.L.C.  This architectural firm had earlier designed the Frederick H. Hild Regional Library at 4455 North Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Square on the Far North Side of Chicago for the Chicago Public Library.  This is one of two regional libraries in Chicago (the other being the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library on the South Side).  It was named after the second Librarian of the Chicago Public Library, Frederick H. Hild (1858-1914), who served from 1887 to 1909, but was later renamed the Conrad Sulzer Regional Library in honor of Conrad Sulzer (1807-1873), an early settler of Ravenswood.[1]  It opened in 1985.

Zalk Josephs Fabricators, L.L.C., a firm based in Stoughton, Wisconsin that fabricates steel products and provides related services for the construction industry in the Midwest, supplied 1,300 tons of steel for the construction of the H.W.L.C.  Construction of the building was undertaken as a joint project of the M. A. Mortenson Company (also known as Mortenson Construction), which is headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Schal Associates, Inc., which was based in Chicago. [In 1992, Bovis Inc., the American holding company of the British-based P&O’s Bovis Construction Group, acquired Schal Associates, having already acquired New York-based Schal Northeast, Inc., and a large part of Washington, D.C.-based Schal Mid-Atlantic, Inc. in 1991.]  This was a $127,850,000 project.

The groundbreaking ceremony took place on Thursday, October 13, 1988.  Soil had to be brought in from elsewhere for the ceremony because there was none on this site because it had been a parking lot.  [The Harold Washington Library Center Construction Photographs, 1988-1991 collection in the Chicago Public Library Archives visually documents the construction process.  Peter Fish Studios produced the photographs.  The collection consists of 1,400 black-and-white prints and approximately 400 negatives.]  The 750,000-square-foot building has seventy miles of shelving.  The dedication ceremony was on Friday, October 4, 1991.  The Harold Washington Library Center opened to the public on Monday, October 7, 1991.

As built, the library building featured a three-tiered grand atrium lobby, six floors of library space per se, and a two-story administration penthouse.  There is now a library-within-the-library at the street level.  At the base of the façade are rusticated Napoleon red granite blocks.  The street entrances are deeply recessed.  Above the base runs a guilloche, an ornamental chain-patterned band. On three sides of the building, the middle stories of the red brick walls are broken up by deep-set five-story-tall arched windows. The windows are linked by cast stone ornamentation.  Between the windows are four-story-tall corn stalks above which are as medallions that feature Windy City Man. The cornstalks end at faces of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture (equivalent to the Greek goddess Demeter), and Chicago’s Latin motto, Urbs in Horto (“City in a Garden”).  A statue of Ceres also rises above the Chicago Board of Trade Building at Jackson and La Salle.  On the Plymouth Court (west) side of the building, there is a glass wall above the base.  It is described in the AIA Guide to Chicago as “taut glass skin,” and as “a neutral mirror for the Manhattan and Old Colony buildings to the west.”  This is judged to be a counterpoint to the way glass is a vehicle for reinterpreting Classicism elsewhere in the building, particularly in the pediments.”    Stanly Tigerman, by contrast, opines, “The abrupt displacement of the exterior stone-and-brick container with an aluminum grid on the rear Plymouth Court façade is unexplained, and it may raise unnecessary questions about ‘the emperor’s new clothes’ of Chicago’s newest leviathan.” This appears in Chicago Architecture and Design 1923-1993: Reconfiguration of an American Metropolis, an exhibit catalog edited by former Art Institute of Chicago Curator of Architecture John Zukowsky.

In 1993, seven aluminum ornamental structures were added to the roof.   These ornaments were placed on each of the rectangular-shaped building’s four corners, as well as at the centers of the east (State Street), south (Congress Parkway), and north (Van Buren) sides of the building. These rooftop ornaments include seed pods, designed by Kent Bloomer, that symbolize the agricultural wealth of the Midwest, of which Chicago is a sort of socioeconomic and administrative capital. Raymond Kaskey designed the barn owls, perched in the foliage at the four corners, as well as the Great Horned Owl over the State Street entrance. Owls, of course, represent wisdom in Western iconography, despite the fact that the owl trainer for the Harry Potter films told home viewers in a special feature of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that in reality owls are quite stupid.  The owls atop the Harold Washington Library Center give a whimsical, literally fantastic air to the building.  I recall the first time my mother pointed the owls to my father, he said they belonged in the version of Gotham City from Tim Burton’s Batman films.  Madison, Connecticut-based Welding Works, Inc. fabricated more than ninety individual ornaments, designed by Kent Bloomer and Raymond Kaskey, and assembled them into seven major ornamental structures, which were subsequently installed at the H.W.L.C.’s four corners and three entrances. These structures are as wide as seventy-five feet and as tall as forty feet.  Each structure consists of an aluminum support frame to which individual assemblies have been attached.

At the center of the H.W.L.C. on the ground floor is the square-shaped, marbled-floored Grand Lobby.  In the center of the wall on the Congress Parkway (south) side is the Congress Corridor, which leads to the entrance on Congress Parkway.  The Congress Corridor has an escalator that leads down to the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium.  In the lobby, the Congress Corridor is flanked by artifacts and artworks that remind historically-minded visitors of the close relationship between the C.P.L.’s previous central library, which is now the Chicago Cultural Center, on State Street, with the Grand Army of the Republic.  Although these items are labeled, there are no signs to clue in other visitors as to why it is significant these artifacts and artworks are in the H.W.L.C. lobby.  According to the C.P.L.’s Web site, these artworks and artifacts belong to the Grand Army of the Republic Museum, which is part of a larger C.P.L. collection of artworks and artifacts.[2]  In the southwest corner hangs a portrait of President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) by Pauline A. Dohn Rudolph (1865-1924) above a Grand Army of the Republic table (circa 1897).  In the southeast corner hangs a portrait of General (later President) Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) by John Antrobus (1837-1907) over a wooden Grand Army of the Republic Initiation Altar (built by A.H. Andrews & Company in 1897). One will also find two Civil War cannons from the Grand Army of the Republic Museum upstairs, on the east side of the 5th floor.  On the west side of the altar is a small case that contains a miniature replica of the Cloud Gate sculpture by English artist Anish Kapoor, C.B.E., which stands in Millennium Park, and is popularly known as The Bean.  On the east side of the altar stands an award case for the Chicago Public Library.


Figure 2 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: Grand Army of the Republic Initiation Altar, built by A.H. Andrews & Company in 1897, as seen in the lobby of the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington Library Center on Tuesday, November 2, 2010.

East of the award case is a large water basin that wraps around a downward escalator.  People throw coins into the basin, as if it were a wishing well.  Above the basin is a quote from the American-born English poet T. S. Elliot (1888-1965), “The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man.” In the northeast corner of the lobby is another portrait of U.S. Grant, and an entrance to a hallway.  The hallway leads to an escalator (to go up to floors 2-9), the Van Buren Street entrance, and YOUMedia.  The north wall is adorned, appropriately, with a mural depiction of the library’s eponym. This is the mosaic mural Events in the Life of Harold Washington by Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000), one of the best known Black painters of the 20th century. The mural depicts several stages in Washington’s life as a public person, as a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps, soldier, lawyer, U.S. congressman, and mayor of Chicago. Note the open books spread across his desk.  The Grand Lobby can be rented out for receptions after business hours for stand-up receptions.  It can hold up to 400 people standing.

On the ground floor of the H.W.L.C., the east side that faces State Street contains the Popular Library.  As the name suggests, this library-within-the-library provides access to popular books (in this case meaning new bestsellers).  It has 10,000 fiction and non-fiction books that have been published within the last 24 months, as well as D.V.D.s (including children’s films), C.D.s, and audio books. On display are Ron Gordon’s photographs of Printer’s Row and a Schneidewend printing press manufactured in Chicago.

The H.W.L.C. YOUmedia facility is on the 1st floor, west of the lobby.  Here, high school participants attend workshops in digital music, video and animation, photography, graphic design, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Teens can borrow laptops, play video games, earn camera certifications, use drawing tablets, experiment with 2D and 3D design, use 3D printers (under supervision), create digital media in an in-house production studio (under supervision), and check-out books, as well as attend workshops.  The first of what are now twelve YOUmedia facilities in the Chicago Public Library System, it opened in a 5,500-square-foot space on the 1st floor of the Harold Washington Library Center in 2009.  Established under the aegis of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiative, it was funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation through the Chicago Public Library Foundation.  Additional funding came from the Pearson Foundation and the City of Chicago (which means the city government as a corporate body).  First-time users need to show both a Chicago Public Library card and a high school identification card.  Teachers and librarians can arrange tours, which typically take forty-five minutes, between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.  The facility is open from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays; from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesday, and Thursdays; from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Fridays; and from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays.  The phone number is (312) 747-5260.

The Lower Level is also adorned by a large artwork, called as cosmogram, DuSable’s Journey, which was created by Houston Conwill, artist; Joseph DePace, architect; and Estella Conwill Majoza, poet. It depicts in a very abstract way the water routes crossed by Jean Baptiste DuSable to reach Chicago, where he and his family were the first permanent settlers, from his birthplace in Haiti in the Caribbean through various waterways leading to the Great Lakes. The map is encircled by quotations from Harold Washington’s first and second mayoral inaugural speeches, one of which is the height of multiculturalism.  One can look straight down to the cosmogram from the Grand Lobby.  The Lower Level has a number of rooms.  The largest of these is the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, a 385-seat auditorium paneled in African mahogany.  It has a 30-foot-by-30-foot stage to which wings can be added. If you would like to rent the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, you “must provide all technical staff required to produce a program including, but not limited to, sound, lighting, stage manager and stage crew.”  The C.P.L. offers it as “the perfect backdrop for a dance or music performance, literary program or corporate meeting.” With the rental of the auditorium comes a Steinway concert grand piano, two dressing rooms, and a Green Room.

The Cindy Pritzker Auditorium was named in honor of Marian F. “Cindy” Pritzker, who was a member of the Board of Directors of the CPL from 1984 to 1997, and president of the Board of Directors from 1989 to 1997.  She was also founder and first chairman of the Chicago Public Library Foundation.  She is the widow of the lawyer, industrialist, and hotelier Jay Pritzker (1922-1999).  On the Lower Level, one will also find the Reception Hall, the Video Theater, and two multipurpose meeting rooms.  The Reception Hall, across from the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, can hold up to 170 people.  It has hardwood floors, track lighting, floating walls, and can be rented out for receptions.  The Video Theater, adjacent to the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, is a theater with equipped for rear-screen projection that can seat up to sixty-three people, and is also available for rent.  The Lower Level Complex Lobby has marble and white mosaic walls. It is the registration area for events held in the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium and comes complimentary with the rental of the City Pritzker Auditorium.  Multi-Purpose Room A can seat 50 people, while Multi-Purpose Room B can seat 80 to 130 people, depending on how the seats are arranged.  Combined, Rooms A&B can seat 120 to 200 people.

The Thomas Hughes Children’s Library is located on the 2nd floor of the H.W.L.C.  [It closed to undergo renovations on Saturday, November 5, 2016.   If everything goes according to plan, it will re-open this summer.  In the meantime, a children’s pop-up library opened in the Popular Library on the ground floor.  This children’s pop-up library includes a selection of popular picture books, fiction for schoolchildren, D.V.D.s, and a puppet stage.  In addition, children can access the Internet via computers on the 5th floor.  There are also family study areas on the 5th floor.]  Adults who are not bringing minor children to the library pass it by on their way up to the 3rd floor.  It was named in honor of Thomas Hughes (1822-1896), an Englishman who rallied his countrymen around the idea of providing Chicago with books for a new public library after the Great Fire of 1871 devastated the city.  Hughes was a Member of Parliament (M.P.) and author of Tom Brown’s School Days. The Thomas Hughes Children’s Library serves children from infancy through 8th grade.  The Children’s Library, which has over 18,000 square feet of space on the second floor, houses the single largest collection of children’s books in the city – 120,000 volumes of picture books, easy readers, classics of children’s literature, contemporary children’s fiction, informational books, large print books, science project books and other reference materials for research projects, foreign language books, special collections of award-winning books, and a small collection of books on parenting. The reference collection for adults includes dissertations on children’s literature, bibliographies, books on children, books on teaching children to read, books on storytelling, a particularly strong collection of folk tales and fairy tales, and the historical Opie Collection on microfiche. The Children’s Library subscribes to many children’s magazines and professional journals.  A child can apply for a library card as soon as the child can print his or her full name. The signature of a parent or legal guardian is required, along with an I.D. (one piece of identification) that shows that adult’s name and Chicago address.  The Children’s Library sponsors free programs for children throughout the year.  A monthly program flyer lists all of the children’s programs. The information in the flier can also be obtained by calling the department at (312) 747-4200. Intended as an “area [that] offers a warm and inviting place to explore for children and their families,” it features child-sized chairs and tables, a computer center, and a parent center.   The Children’s Library has 8 computer catalogs and twelve computers with internet access. Children 7-14 may sign up to use the internet or the multimedia. Little children must be accompanied by a responsible person (i.e., an older sibling or cousin if not a parent, grandparent, or the like). The Children’s Library includes a program room with a puppet stage that can seat a group of up to fifty-five children.  Reservations are required for group visits.  Wee-small visitors are challenged to identify the more than seventy allusions to children’s stories, poems and nursery rhymes in the Storybook Dollhouse. The Children’s Librarians can suggest good books for parents to read to infants and very small children and for older children to read themselves.  The librarians here are also prepared to help children and their parents select books for children with special needs.

Upon reaching the 3rd floor, to the right of the escalator there is a marble sculpture by sculptor, painter, and printmaker Manuel Neri. The Chicago Gallery on the right has exhibitions drawn from different aspects of Chicago history. The 3rd floor has the Computer Commons, Newspapers & Periodicals, and the main Circulation Desk.  On the east side of the floor, library cardholders check out and return materials and new visitors apply for library cards at the main Circulation Desk. The south end of the floor is occupied by the Computer Commons, which provides public access to the Internet as well as word-processing stations. One will also find on the south end of the floor Newspapers & Periodicals. Here, one may read general newspapers and current as well as retrospective periodical titles. Newspapers from every state in the Union are present, as are foreign English-language newspapers. Researchers can peruse complete runs of the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and The Times of London on microfilm and extensive runs of historic Chicago newspapers on microfilm.

The Maker Lab, on the 3rd floor, is the first (and, thus far, only) free maker lab in the city.  It includes digital design software, 3D printers with built areas of 11” x 6” x 6” and 4.7” x 4.7” x 4.7,” laser cutters with a 20” x 12” bed, and electronic cutters.  First-time users should attend introductory workshops.  Those seeking to work on personal projects or opportunities for collaboration should seek Open Shop time.  Initially funded by a grant from the I.M.L.S. through the C.P.L. Foundation, the Maker Lab opened in July of 2013 as a six-month-long experiment.  However, due to its popularity, it has remained open thanks to a grant from the Motorola Mobility Foundation.  It earned a 2013 Social Innovator Award at the Chicago Innovation Awards.  The Maker Lab is open from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays; and Thursdays; and from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.  The phone number is (312) 747-4300 and the e-mail address is makerspace@chipublib.com.

The Business, Science & Technology Department is on the 4th floor.   The Business Collection has guides on career planning, job-hunting, and test preparation; company directories; and “investment tools including books on all aspects of investing and finance, newsletters, records of securities prices, and small business information resources and ‘start-up’ manuals.”   The Science & Technology Collection contains books on health and medicine; materials on how to evaluate, price, purchase, and repair consumer products; a complete set of American patents (from 1790) along with the resources one would need to conduct an American patent search; British patents covering the years between 1617 and 1994; industry standards, government specifications, and construction codes; books on computers and software; science fair projects resources; and automobile service manuals.  For some reason, it also includes cookbooks.

The Periodicals Collection on the 4th floor includes not only general interest journals, magazines and newspapers, but also current trade, technical, scientific, professional, and business investment journals.   At the main escalator entrance to the 4th floor there is a sculpture constructed of so-called “found” materials by acclaimed California artist Alison Saar entitled Sleeping Beauty.  Next to the elevators, one will find The Winner, a painted quilt by noted children’s book author and illustrator Faith Ringgold.

To visit the Talking Book Center on the 5th floor, as one approaches the elevators, turn right. The Talking Book Center has more than 53,000 audio books (books-on-tape and books-on-CD), recorded and Braille books to patrons who are blind or have impaired vision to such an extent they are legally blind.  The C.P.L. states, “Any person who, because of a visual or physical disability, experiences difficulty reading standard print, holding a book, or turning a page is eligible for service.” The department has a Computer Reader that converts symbols to sounds.

The Government Publications Department is situated on the south end of the 5th floor. It is a depository for reference materials the C.P.L. received from the United States Government, State of Illinois, and Cook County, and City of Chicago. The C.P.L. has been a U.S. Government depository since 1876, and today the C.P.L. has about 98% of the materials offered to libraries by the U.S. Government Printing Office.  U.S. Government documents are arranged under the Superintendent of Documents (SUDOC) classification scheme. The on-line catalog provides access to publications (that are in the collection) published by the Federal Government from 2002 onward. For items published before 2002, consult specialized indexes.

The collection of U.S. Congressional reports and other documents, from the 19th Century onward, is quite large.  A complete run is available of the Congressional Record and its predecessors.  All American statistical publications in the American Statistics Index (1973-current) are available on microfiche and/or paper.  There is a large collection of U.S. Census materials.  The department also has those foreign government statistics that are supplied on the microfiche received with the Index to International Statistics (1983-current).

Another featured collection of the department is the City of Chicago’s Municipal Reference Collection (M.R.C.), which dates back to the mid-19th Century.  These documents are arranged under the Illinois Documents Classification scheme.  Items must be requested at the Reference Desk, because the majority of the collection is held in closed stacks, which means, as explained in the profile of the T.B. Blackstone Memorial Branch Library, that visitors are not free to roam about looking for books to read.  These collections originally came from the Municipal Reference Library.  In 1901, the City Council created the Bureau of Statistics, and Hugo S. Grosser’s title was “Librarian and Statistician.”  He was listed as “City Statistician” in The Book of American Municipalities: What is What in Our Cities, published by The League of American Municipalities in 1907.  By the time the Catalogue of the Chicago Municipal Library was published in 1908, this organization was called the Bureau of Statistics and Municipal Library.  The Common Council of the City of Chicago passed an ordinance on March 31, 1913 to rename the Municipal Library the Municipal Reference Library and designated it a branch of the Chicago Public Library.  Exactly five years later, on March 31, 1918, the Common Council repealed part of that ordinance in order to make the Municipal Reference Library a separate institution again.  In the early 1990s, Chicago’s Municipal Reference Library, on the tenth floor of City Hall, transferred some 50,000 documents to the H.W.L.C.[3]  This process began when Mayor Daley’s 1993 budget cut $450,000 from the $1,000,000 budget of Chicago’s M.P.L.[4]   At that time, about 20,000 people per year had consulted the M.P.L., about half of them government employees and the other half journalists and concerned citizens.[5]   Mayor Daley had 50,000 documents transferred from the M.P.L. to the Harold Washington Library Center.  Joyce Malden (1936-2006),[6] chief librarian of the Municipal Reference Library, became a contractor.  She saw the M.P.L. shrink both as a physical place and as an organization.  The staff she supervised shrank from thirteen full-timers to three full-timers and one part-timer.  Physically, the M.P.L. shrank as well.  It went from 5,000 square feet on the tenth floor of City Hall to 3,200 square feet on the tenth floor and 2,000 square feet of storage space in the basement.  The M.P.L. remained open to employees of the City of Chicago but closed to the general public.  Ms. Malden sought to merge the M.P.L. with the libraries of the Chicago Park District, Chicago Transit Authority, and Cook County.

Government maps, including topographic maps from the U.S. Geological Survey, are in the southeast corner of the 5th floor.  This corner also features Ogun’s Rooster, a work by the Chicago-born ceramic artist Muneer Bahauddeen.  The Social Science & History Department’s periodical collection is on the 5th floor as well, even though everything else in that department is up on the 6th floor.

On the 6th floor, one will find the Social Sciences & History Department’s book collection.  It encompasses history in general and Chicago history in particular education, library science, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and religion, psychology, parapsychology, general biography, genealogy, and travel.  For some reason, it includes sports.  Indexes and abstracts for the Social Sciences & History Department’s periodical collection down on the 5th floor can be found on the 6th floor with the book collection.  Grant researchers should visit the reference collection of sources on foundation, fundraising, grants, and grant proposal writing.  The Social Science Division provides street maps of the U.S.A., as well as atlases and gazetteers for reference use.  The Teacher Resource Center has materials for teachers, administrators, and students interested in lesson plan development and the best known teaching practices.

The Humanities Division of the C.P.L. is spread out over the 7th and 8th floors of the H.W.L.C.  On the 7th floor, one finds the C.P.L.’s Literature & Language Department, which offer books and journals on languages and literature.  This department contains both the central library’s extensive collections of the English literary canon and other works of fiction written in, or translated into, English, and the H.W.L.C.’s Large Print collection.  The central library’s fiction collection is the largest of its kind in the Midwest, as it includes nearly 200,000 novels and short story anthologies.  According to the C.P.L., “Its emphases include classics, literary fiction, African American fiction, gay and lesbian fiction, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, and the work of Chicago and Illinois writers.”  In addition to prose, one will find poetry in this department.  The department is also home to drama (plays), literary criticism, literary history, and literary biographies, as well as material on the journalism trade, the craft of writing (i.e., how to write), the business of writing (i.e., getting published), careers in writing and publishing, public speaking, humor, and graphic novels.[7]  In addition to the English language collections, the department holds book collections, both fiction and non-fiction, in more than 200 languages, as well as current journals and newspapers in numerous languages. This department also provides resources for students of English as a Second Language (E.S.L.).

The Chicago Authors Room provides a setting for many public programs. It is adorned with works on paper by Tim Rollins and Kids of Survival (K.O.S.).  [Rollins is an art teacher who collaborates with his high school students in the South Bronx, New York City.]  The Chicago Authors Room can seat up to 55 people, and is available for rent on a limited basis during library business hours.

Outside the Chicago Authors Room are bronze sculptures by Sara Miller of Chicago authors Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), and Saul Bellow (1915-2005).  Other works of art on display on the 7th floor include The Life/Death Cart, a bronze by Preston Jackson, Professor of Sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, on the north end, and Women Leaning, a wooden sculpture by Venezuelan-American artist Marisol Escobar, across from elevators.

The second of the two departments in the Humanities Division, the Visual & Performing Arts Department, occupies the 8th floor.  It encompasses architecture, costume, decorative arts and crafts, the fine arts, photography, music, printed music scores, theater, dance, radio, television, and cinema. Special holdings in this department include the Picture Collection and the Chicago Artists’ Archives.

The rich musical heritage of the city is reflected in the Chicago Blues Archives, Jubilee Showcase Gospel Video Collection, and the Balaban and Katz Theater Orchestra Collection. Researchers can watch or listen to sound and video recordings in the Listening/Viewing Center during limited hours.  [Visitors who plan to use the facility need to confirm available times beforehand.]   A reference collection of performance arts for researchers ranges from 78s to CDs and videos.   Book collections in this department are augmented by an extensive collection of periodicals. There are six piano practice rooms, as well as a rehearsal room for chamber music.

In the 8th floor’s elevator corridor, there are exhibits on the Library Collections and Chicago Blues Archives. Here, one may see five alternative (unrealized) architectural visions of a Central Library for Chicago in architectural models that represent original architectural proposals submitted in 1988 for the Design/Build Competition for what became the Harold Washington Library Center. The architectural model of the award-winning design by HBRA can be viewed separately on the 9th floor in the exhibit Called to the Challenge: the Legacy of Harold Washington.

The Special Collections & Preservation Division, on the north side of the 9th floor, houses rare books and pamphlets, photographs, artifacts, artworks, and archival records.  One can learn fascinating things there about Chicago history.  This division compliments The Newberry Library and the Chicago History Museum.   The archival collections include materials on the American Civil War; Chicago’s two World’s Fairs – the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893) and A Century of Progress (1933-34); the histories of Chicago and Chicago neighborhoods; Mayor Harold Washington; Chicago authors; the publishing trade in Chicago; theatre in Chicago; and the Chicago Public Library Archives. The exhibit halls are frequently used as a showcase for materials in the C.P.L. Special Collections.

The South Hall, located on the 9th floor, adjacent to the Winter Garden, has floor-to-ceiling windows.  The corridor on the southern end of the 9th floor is adorned by Communidad, Si (“It takes a Vision”), a mural painted by six Chicago artists. The murals themes are “neighborhood power, urban renewal, and ethnic diversity,” all of which were important to Harold Washington. The top of the Winter Garden is over 100 feet in the air, rising through the 10th floor, climaxing in a skylight. It is an atrium with a terrazzo and marble floor.  The 52-foot glass paneled dome spans the entire room.  It features four olive trees. In the AIA Guide to Chicago, the Winter Garden is described as a “grand interior space” and “a restful place that recalls an exterior courtyard.”  The Winter Garden can seat up to 400 people for a dinner or reception and up to 500 people if the seats are arranged in the style of a theater.  The South Hall, which can seat up to 200 people whether the seats are arranged for a reception or in the style of a theater, is for the most part available for rent only if one also rents the Winter Garden or Cindy Pritzker Auditorium.

The phone number at the HWLC is (312) 747-4200 or (312) 747-4219 (TDD). To rent one or more spaces in the H.W.L.C., call (312) 747-4130 or e-mail rentals@chipublib.org.




[1] The Frederick H. Hild Regional Library, as an organization, had moved into the building.  Previously, it had been housed in the building at 4544 North Lincoln Avenue.  That Art Deco building now houses the Old Town School of Folk Music.

[2] The Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization for Union Army (United States Army), Union Navy (U.S. Navy), U.S. Marine Corps, and Revenue-Marine (now the U.S. Coast Guard) veterans of the American Civil War.  It was a powerful voting bloc in the Republican Party for the last few decades of the 19th Century.  The Chicago Public Library had to share quarters with the G.A.R. in the old Chicago Public Library that is now the Chicago Cultural Center.

[3] Neal Pollack, “The Late, Great Municipal Reference Library,” The Reader, May 4, 1995

[4] Neal Pollack, “The Late, Great Municipal Reference Library,” The Reader, May 4, 1995

[5] Neal Pollack, “The Late, Great Municipal Reference Library,” The Reader, May 4, 1995

[6] The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has the Joyce Malden Papers, 1976-1988, in its American Association of Law Libraries collection.  She was President of the American Association of Law Libraries (A.A.L.L.) for 1970-71 and Treasurer of the A.A.L.L. from 1976 to 1983 in addition to her work at the M.P.L.

[7] An aside for those who cannot picture a graphic novel – it will look to you like an ultra-thick comic book and is one of three things.  First, it may be an anthology of comic books stories with one story-arc, possibly a miniseries, published in one volume, such as Frank Miller’s 300.   Second, it may be one long comic book story, such as Gotham by Gaslight.  Third, it may be a novel in comic book format like Road to Perdition, which was written by Max Allan Collins with illustrated by Richard Piers Rayner.

4 thoughts on ““The Harold Washington Library Center” by S.M. O’Connor

  1. Hallo ,I recently started to write content, can you give me some advice? thank u


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